The St Louis Rams ended their pre-season with a meaningless 14-13 defeat to the Miami Dolphins. With both teams keeping an overwhelming majority of their starters on the bench, this was a final opportunity for roster hopefuls to make their pitch for a place on the team, so the game, while no doubt full of an eager competitiveness, was always going to be of a scrappy quality. The Rams were a few inches of a 63-yard field goal away from victory, but the truth is that this final exhibition will have little bearing on the regular season ahead, making finding long-term positives and negatives a little bit tricky…
What I Liked
No injuries Last week, the Rams lost quarterback Sam Bradford for the season, cornerback Trumaine Johnson for up to six weeks, and suffered a few knocks to key starters such as offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. Eager to avoid similar attrition before the season opener against Minnesota, Coach Jeff Fisher kept all the starters off the field. While this rendered this last preseason game devoid of both quality and meaning, it nonetheless means that, hopefully, the Rams will next take to the field with its full starting cast (sans, of course, both Bradford and Johnson). The team has already had its fair share of ill-fortune with the injury bug, so avoiding further problems was a wise decision. If the first few series against Cleveland were anything to go by, this starting unit could mean serious business.
Trey Watts The undrafted rookie has been improving steadily with each pre-season game, and this reached its peak against Miami. Watts posted a mediocre average of 3.9 yards per rush, but he has carried the load over the past few weeks and been the Rams’ most effective rusher, albeit against weaker opposition. He has made a persuasive case for his survival, one which has paid dividends seeing as he has made it into the final 53. With Watts, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Tre Mason and Chase Reynolds, the Rams have a loaded backfield of young talent, perhaps reflecting that this running attack will be distributed significantly to keep it ticking over.
Austin Davis The Rams’ current second quarterback did not have an amazing game. He made a number of errant over-throws and was sacked a few times, but also displayed good mobility and made key passes on third down to keep the chains moving in the early phases of the game. His performance has garnered importance in this post-Bradford context with uncertainty surrounding what the Rams will do at the position. Rookie Garrett Gilbert was unsurprisingly cut, and the front office could still make a move on a more experienced veteran, but Davis’ performance demonstrated that he could be a viable backup who seems to have jumped from fourth to second on the depth chart.
What I Didn’t Like
That Greg Robinson played I understand, and even agree with, the reasons why Greg Robinson played on Thursday. It is the fact that these reasons exists that I dislike. Given Fisher’s decision to keep the starters on the bench, Robinson’s inclusion seems to indicate that he is not currently considered a starter. Instead, veteran Davin Joseph was given the evening off, while Robinson worked hard in the trenches. Now, this could be Fisher giving valuable playing time to his rookies (Aaron Donald and Lamarcus Joyner also played, and these are likely to see significant action in the regular season), but it is concerning that Robinson has not demonstrated the comfort and ability to be considered a guaranteed starter yet. Robinson was a second overall pick and the final major piece of the RG3 bounty and needs to be on the field. In fact, he needs to be more than just a starter; he needs to be a mainstay anchor on that offensive line. He clearly possesses great athleticism, and his maturation has not been aided by shifting between tackle and guard, but, until he becomes an entrenched starter on this team, the spirit of Jason Smith will not be fully exorcised.
Tre Mason Earlier in the pre-season, the third-round pick was demonstrating nifty footwork that led many to believe that he would provide significant competition at the running back position. Unfortunately, this clear potential has not translated into yardage, and Mason’s performances have been progressively poorer as the pre-season has progressed. He ended Thursday’s game with an average of 2.3 yards per carry, against third and fourth string players. Mason is simply dancing too much behind the line of scrimmage and is not hitting the holes with enough conviction. Watts’ success proves that all this cannot be blamed squarely on the offensive line. Mason should be part of a two-headed rushing monster alongside Zac Stacy, but with neither of these convincing me this pre-season, I must confess to being a bit concerned about the running game that this team now so sorely needs.
Other thoughts and observations…
Austin Pettis continues to justify his place on the team…Michael Sam led the team in tackles, but that was not enough to survive the cuts – hopefully he will make it to the practice squad…Ethan Westbrooks is quite a find…puns about Brad Smelley – really?…the pre-season is over: let the real football begin!!